Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
Tom Petty's follow-up to Full Moon Fever, Into The Great Wide Open, was one of the last cassette tapes I bought, and I played it until it sounded warped. I loved it. I learned all the lyrics. Because I had bought it when it was new, as opposed to When I Heard It An Adult's House, it felt more like My Tom Petty Album than Full Moon Fever. But after the back to back releases of Greatest Hits and Wildflowers, I hardly ever went back to it.
It's a solid album, but, looking back through all of Petty's discography, it does feel like a really Safe version of Full Moon Fever. There are no weird tracks on this album, they all sound like radio friendly single attempts. I love the title track, and a few other songs, but it's not as magic. I didn't cut anything, though, because there aren't any Bad Songs. I even added the final Traveling Wilburys track for this discography. And, with its new order, I like it a bit better as I've tried my best to space out the songs that sounded too similar. As an album, I think it's more solid than my Southern Accents (which, again, is a pre-Full Moon Fever Greatest Hits collection) but I'd file it with 21st century Petty, albums I love from beginning to end, but am rarely compelled to listen to.
Much like the frequently mentioned, Full Moon Fever, this album was formatted to highlight the singles. The first two tracks were the first two singles. They're good songs. They're not really openers, though. Makin' Some Noise is a declaration (that the rest of the album doesn't live up to) that this is going to be more rock than adult contemporary. The lyrics are completely forgettable. It's all about the guitar riff and the occasional Petty screech. It also follows the trend of laying down some interesting rockabilly piano that it fades out on far too quickly.
Into The Great Wide Open was the first Petty single that I was into at the same time that it was getting major radio play. I love its narrative flow, and the open strumming before the chorus hits. The final verse flow from jingle to mingle to single is probably my favorite verse he ever wrote. I love that the story ends there.
It's time to say goodbye to the Traveling Wilburys with The Devil's Been Busy, a takedown of rich, entitled White people (which is probably not quite how they would have described it in 1990, but that is what it's about). It's not their greatest track, but I do love the chorus and the unmistakable George Harrison sitar.
Another actual rock riff screams out of All Or Nothin', which sees raw Petty emerge in the chorus breaking up Mature Petty's verses. My skin is thicker / my heart is tougher / I don't mind working / but I'm scared to suffer has always seemed super relatable to me, even if it is Incredibly Trite. There's also hella wammy bar in the solo.
Too Good To Be True is the quintissential sound of this album. It's very strummy. The background harmonies are very basic but work well. The lyrics are bumper sticker philosophy (as are the lyrics in "All Or Nothin'"). It's a good song, in that it seems like a song you already know all the words to. Even the fake ending before the almost soft jazz electric guitars seem like Oh Yea, I Remember This.
Continuing the trend of the strummy familiar songs is For All The Wrong Reasons. The lyrics are a step up from the previous two, even if I wouldn't exactly call it challenging. It's the kind of song that if you heard it at a concert, you wouldn't feel bad about singing along with it, as everyone at the show likes it, but nobody was super psyched and waiting for This Song to experience live.
King's Highway is almost a Cars song with Tom Petty on vocals. I think it's the drums that just scream Early 80s, even though this is an early 90s song. Part of me thought about plucking this song off this album and dropping it on to Highway Companion, it would have sounded instrumentally out of place, but lyrically perfect. My favorite part of the entire song is the exhausted drum finale.
For the second album in a row, I've pulled the first track, also the first single out of its place because it didn't sound like an opener, and placed it where I felt it naturally belonged. Both times, I've ended up placing it at what would be the first track of Side Two for records or tapes. Learning To Fly is a perfectly great Tom Petty song. But I loved it So Much when it came out, and now I wouldn't put it in my top twenty-five Petty songs.
Out In The Cold attempts to bring back the rock a bit. The drums do most of the work. Though the lower octaved guitars help give it a more menacing feel than most of the tracks on this album. It also has a spare narrative that evokes all sorts of Feeling Lost Because I Don't Know Where I'm At In My Relationship, even though it never really addresses that that's what's happening.
I spent more time than should have been necessary to find a logical place for You And I Will Meet Again. Its opening strum sounds like it's already the middle of a song but not in such a way that I wanted to try and fade into it. Instead I placed the "What's In Here? / Ohhhh" skit just before it. I like the idea of the Petty that was wondering around in the snow during the last poem, opening a door and a monster...not just any monster but a big, fuzzy Muppet monster that represented his failed relationship...begins singing him this song. For the fourth or fifth time in the discography we fade out on rockabilly piano that I wish was more present in the song.
The Dark Of The Sun could have been the closing track of the album. It's low-key but not quite a ballad, and there's a hint of optimism in the lyrics.
I think I liked Two Gunslingers so much when it came out because I was reading The Waste Land by Stephen King at the time. And I always pictured the A stranger / told his missus / that's the last one / of these gunfights / you're ever going to drag me to taking place in Lud.
Closing out the album is the actual closer from Into The Great Wide Open. Built To Last is a literal banger, if the bass drum is to be believed. It's a cheesy love song with some cool background effects, 50s harmonies, and it's a nice farewell to this familiar Petty, as the next album brings the last Interesting Change to Petty's repertoire.
If you are not a diehard Tom Petty fan (and I'm not, I fall somewhere between casual and formal fandom) than you usually skip a bunch of tracks on Petty albums, and just listen to your favorites. With two exceptions: Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers.
The new release of the updated Wildflowers is the reason I'm doing this discography now, but that doesn't detract from the joy of toying with Full Moon Fever. I have not removed any songs, and have, in fact, added a couple of Travelling Wilburys songs to it.
The original album was mostly designed to showcasr singles. It starts hella strong and slowly fades in quality until the Obvious Closer for the album, and then it comes back and smacks you with the weirdest song on the album.
I appreciate that method, but have aimed for a more cohesive album, letting the singles pop up occasionally rather than throwing them all at you at once.
I don't care if it's sacrilege not to start with those five breezy strums that signal the opening of "Free Fallin'". This album has several songs that serve as great openers. For my money, I love the folk silliness of Yer So Bad. It's a signal that this album isn't like any previous Petty album. The production is cleaner. The jangle is still present but no longer the focus of songs. Jeff Lynne (the guy from ELO, and a fellow Traveling Wilbury) has pushed Petty's vocals to the front, and the whole album is better for it. Instead of rebellious Southern Rock with a screeching Petty, this is going to be a bright, shiny, happy Petty. It's a joy to listen to.
The first single comes crashing through with an incredible riffy opening. Runnin' Down A Dream is such a summer song, perhaps the second most summer song on this Very summer album. I love how they fade the rhythm guitars to the front for the silly strumming, and then push it back to the background. The woo-ooohs that swallow the ending of the song, as the sinister guitar riff is subdued by a Mike Campbell solo is also a new and welcome addition for a Heartbreakers song (it's true that this is Petty's first "solo" album, but many of the Heartbreakers and The Traveling Wilburys play on it).
This is silly. "Runnin' Down A Dream" was the final song from Side A of the original cassette, and Petty does a little skit about it being the end of Side A. I like keeping it at the end of the second track. Just because it's fun, and because it makes the fact that the next song, End Of The Line, starts with Roy Orbison vocals before Petty joins in. Yeup, it's a Traveling Wilburys song. Still summery. I just see the sun coming down while people do watersports (like kayaking and diving into a lake, pervs).
We slow things down a bit with A Face In The Crowd. I think it's a mandolin that strums throughout the song that helps this song stand out. It's only the second excellent ballad Petty has recorded (after "Southern Accents").
Fading in at the end of the previous track is a Very 80s synth beat that's soon overwhelmed by Very Tom Petty drums and guitars. Love Is A Long Road is the first track that would have fit on an early Petty album. Its production may be cleaner but it's a classic Petty song, and it's hard not to imagine this is just a really good regular Heartbreaker track. It has more of a late 70s than a late 80s feel, apart from those synths. Lord, those synths.
Zombie Zoo is such a ridiculous Petty song. The brief piano riffs. The floating background vocals (which include Roy Orbison). The lyrics you shaved off all your hair / you look like Boris Karloff / and you don't even care. The chorus uses the phrase painted in the corner and, for reasons I can't explain, it always finishes in my head with like you was Pointdexter from Young MC's "Bust A Move", which came out the same year. I don't know why I've always had this association.
Another light, fun song is Cool Dry Place, a Traveling Wilburys song with Petty completely at the forefront. Unlike the previous Wilbury tracks, this one keeps the other Wilburys in the background, rather than have them trade verses. So it really does sound like a Petty song. But with Orbinson, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne as background singers. There's also a great low sax croaking, and some horn ribbits rounding out the bright instrumentation.
After a breath of silence, it finally comes in. Free Fallin'. I enjoy it as a change of pace, rather than the intro. I think it gives the song more weight on the album. Although, if this were a cassette or record, this would come at exactly the beginning of Side B.
I also want a cooldown after "Free Fallin'". The original album followed it up with "I Won't Back Down". I prefer putting The Apartment Song here. It's a solid song. A less weird "Yer So Bad" with more of a 1970s Heartbreakers vibe. And it has a great drum breakdown in the middle for a Southern Rock jam. I actualy wish there was more of the rockabilly piano before the song faded out.
Twanging out of the piano is A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own. Another strange set of lyrics (where on Earth does I slept in your treehouse / my middle name of Earl come from in this song?) but a more radio-friendly instrumentation. I like the slide guitar twang, and the weird rising background vocals that don't actually go anywhere after the false stop.
I Won't Back Down is the obvious second favorite song on this album. It's got the rebellious spirit of early Petty but with the more subdued delivery of the newly maturing Petty. It's catchy as all hell.
Jangle jangle jangle in the foreground. Sing-along-background vocals. Feel A Whole Lot Better is a great breakup song with 100% less misogyny than previous Petty breakup songs. The mandolin has it feeling somewhere between a country song and something off of REM's Out Of Time. I debated having this as the final track but I'm a sucker for ending an album with a ballad.
Probably the song I'm least familiar with on the album (though I know all the words) is Depending On You. It's another throwback to the earlier Heartbreakers sound, the ones where Petty sing-talks before falling back into the melody. If I had to lose a song on the album, it would be this. But I don't want to lose it, even if it structurally weakens the close of the album a bit with its reliance on someone else, which stands in start contrast with the message of every other song.
There's a false start to the wonderfully sleepy lullaby, Alright For Now. This song would have fit right in on Wildflowers. In fact, "Wake Up Time" is almost a response to this track. And, okay, this also has a bit of co-dependent feel that clashes with the album's overall theme. But it's such a perfect summer lullaby.
My version of Southern Accents was mostly a Tom Petty's Greatest Hits Before Full Moon Fever. Sure, I snuck on a few tracks that weren't singles or Classic Petty Tracks, and I may have left off a single or two, but it was mostly the crowd-pleasing Petty Played Them Until He Died songs that he wrote in the 70s and early 80s. But I'm not ready to put up Full Moon Fever yet.
Towards the end of my Southern Accents, Petty's sound started to evolve. More piano-focus, cleaner vocals, a ballad. Petty was starting to branch out from his particular brand of Southern Rock. But while I don't think that was evident in his hits of the 70s and early 80s, I do think his B-Sides and outtakes were already vastly different from his pop hits.
This album is named after Petty's pre-Heartbreakers band, Mudcrutch. It doesn't feature any songs from the band, I just like the name, and think it works for describing Petty's less radio-friendly tunes. Most of these songs I originally encountered on Playback, Petty's mid-90s box set. There's also a Traveling Wilbury's song (a supergroup of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne). There will be more Wilbury songs as the discography continues.
This version of Mudcrutch is a weird Petty album, but I like it as An Album more than I enjoy listening to Southern Accents, even though that has all the hits on it. This feels less like "Oooh, I want to hear that one song I love, and then the other songs I know from the radio" and more like "Huh, this is really cool."
I'm not advocating the message of the first track, but the beat, and the overall atmosphere it creates. Peace In LA was written during the LA Riots of the early 90s. I support that Petty is advocating for peace while condeming the completely corrupt racist cops of LA in the early 90s, but sometimes you do need burning and looting so that murderers and abusers in police uniforms don't continue to keep getting away with their disgusting criminal behavior. (Don't at me with arguments about The Police, unless it's about Gordon Sumner, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland. It would be a waste of your racist breath.) The song is a slow scorcher. Honkytonk piano, electric guitar tearing across the stereo, and then a weird ending that bubbles straight into
You Come Through. Lyrically, this is more familiar Petty territoty. A baby, honeypie, sweet thing song about love and loneliness. But Petty moves more across his range. This is a more interesting version of "Refugee". It's a similar instrumentation with much cooler vocals, better lyrics, and a slightly funkier lead guitar. There's even a fake fade out that was so en vogue in the late 70s/early 80s.
A strumming acoustic guitar and a guitar rise out of the fade out, and the lower-toned Petty, somewhere around his vocals on "Spike" sings the very bluesy Big Boss Man, where he relays his feelings about his boss, who thinks he's so big, but is actually just tall. This is a cover of a Jimmy Reed song, and actually Does sound like it could be from Petty's very early catalogue. I love the stretch into blues here, Petty has a better voice for blues than he does for rock, and I wish he'd done a whole album of songs like this.
Travelin' is more similar to Petty's mainstream jangle rock but the drums are straight out Bob Dylan's playbook, and overall the song, which was recorded for Full Moon Fever, sounds more like an excellent cover song rather than a Petty original. It might have been something that made it onto Mojo or, more likely, Highway Companion. It's just a fun folk rock song.
Oooh, Petty takes the Dylan voice back out of the box for I Don't Know What To Say To You. It's a weird little B-side from the late seventies with a country rag feel. The lyrics are all over the place, a kind of frenetic "Desolation Row". It makes you want to make a funny face and bop your head around to the bassline breakdown.
Cracking Up wears its New Wave meets Southern Rock sensibility proudly. It's almost Devo/Carsish in its sensibility and keyboards. But it still has Petty's twang and his riffiness (even if it's buried further in the mix than usual). We get all the way to the end before he breaks out his rock and roll screeching that was so prevelant in his 70s and 80s tracks. Then he Jeff Foxworthys his way out of the track.
There's a real traditional rock sound to God's Gift To Man. Petty is back to his usual vocal styling. It's a typical man changes things for a woman, and it doesn't end well song that makes incels nod their hateful little heads. Not his best work, lyrically, but it's a super catchy southern rock riff.
Can't Get Her Out is almost a follow-up to the previous track. This is a a battling guitar, jangly keyboard, roackabilly piano song with super generic lyrics about a "dangerous girl" Petty can't forget about. Move on, Tom, you were a rock star when you wrote this go find someone who loves you.
Keeping Me Alive almost sounds like an 80s Bruce Springsteen track with Petty on background vocals. I can understand why he didn't put it on an album, even though I really enjoy it. Finally, it's an upbeat song about love where some woman is "keeping (him) alive". I suspect this is closer to the narrative of his real life than the previous two tracks.
Starting somewhere between "Stand By Me" and "I Won't Back Down" is the Very Floridian laidback Casa Dega. It's a B-side from Damn The Torpedoes that I enjoy more than almost any song that made the album.
Waiting For Tonight sounds like it came off Petty's Into The Great Wide Open. Lyrically, it has a bit of a "Free Fallin'" feel, but the background vocals, provided by The Bangles, and the production sound like they came from later in Petty's discography than it does.
The beginning of Down The Line sounds like a reimagining of King Floyd's "Groove Me". This is not a complaint. I love the added funk, and the horns. I also appreciate Petty's almost restrained vocals on this. It's not quite his Dylan voice, but it borders on it.
If "Down The Line" shows Petty's 70s funk influences than Depot Street shows that Petty had a love of reggae that mirrored The Clash, Blondie, and, to a lesser extent, The Police. It has the same Nice Try But No This Isn't Reggae Despite Your Clipped Nasal Delivery as a bunch of late 70s/early 80s reggae influenced tunes. I like it on its own merit but I wouldn't put it on an actual reggae mix. Despite the copious amount of weed Petty smoked, you get the idea that he didn't spend quite enough time in Jamaica to perfect this musical style.
The Traveling Wilburys, like most supergroups, weren't equal to the sum of their parts. I rarely want to listen to more than one song by them at a time. Wilbury Twist is a very 50's Nostalgia Rock Song. I do like the song, and enjoy the way it helps flesh out this weird little album even further. But would I rank it in my top fifty Tom Petty songs? Probably not. It is another White Gu Sshoulder Dancer, though. But everything about this song is derivative nostalgia, which isn't relaly my thing. But here, we actually have Bob Dylan doing vocals on this track, along with Petty, Lynch, and Harrison.
Closing out the album is A Very 1970s ballad, Since You Said You Loved Me. The trilling piano sweeps and softo rock drum beat barely made it out of the 1970s. I think it's a completely fitting end to this eclectic little album.
I've mentioined this before, but growing up, my parents were lost in the 50s and 60s. Almost all of the music they listened to was Motown, Doowop, Soul Music, and Nostalgic Country. There were Some 80s albums in our house (by the mid-80s anyway). But you were more likely to find a Mousercise album than anything New Wave or even pop. We did have a copy of Thriller mixed in with my Stories on Record (mostly Disney movie synopsies), but I'm pretty sure that was legally mandated at the time. We had more stand up comedy albums than we had top ten music albums.
While my parents' collections were all on vinyl, I eventually started using my newspaper route money to buy tapes. My collection was pretty much all Broadway musicals and Ronnie Milsap until, hanging out with friends I was introduced to Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Guns & Roses, Poison, and Def Leppard. One of those things was not like the others. But I kept listening to the music that my friends thought were cool. Until one day, visiting my neighbor's house, I heard two albums that I thought my friends might like, but also my parents might not hate. Because they Hated my tape collection from Phantom Of The Opera to Anthrax. Those two albums, Juice Newton's Juice (which was eight years old at that point) and Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever. I only ever bought the one Juice Newton album, but from Full Moon Fever, I built my Tom Petty collection backwards until I had every tape of his I could find, and I bought Into The Great Wide Open, Greatest Hits, Wildflowers, the Playback box set, She's The One, and Echo the weeks they came out. It took me longer to get his 21st century output, but I did get it all, usually within a few months of release.
I wore out several of his tapes. He was one of the first artists I bought on CD. Until I got all hopped up on buying bootleg albums in high school, I had more Tom Petty albums than any other artist.
Now, my Petty love is very specific. I *like* almost all Petty, but the era between Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers is my jam. The other eras of this discography will be akin to The Cars and Queen, where I smoosh a few albums together to make a super album, but the mid-era Petty will be similar to the U2 and Pearl Jam where I actually make the albums longer by including B-sides, rarities, and more.
The first album is definitely a pre-Full Moon Fever Greatest Hits. The radio definitely influenced which early Petty songs I learned, consumed, and sang along with. I don't think there are any true surprises on this album, it's just a really solid collection of Tom Petty writing catchy three-minutesish pop rock.
If you're going to start setting up tracks for a Tom Petty discography, and you don't start off with some jangly guitars, you're doing The Heartbreakers, Tom, and anyone listening to the project a huge disservice. There are going to be a ton of jangly riffs, so why not start off with one of his best? The title of American Girl may give you the impression that we're starting with something at least vaguely political but, no lyrically this song gets as deep as Oh yea / all right / take it easy baby / make it last all night / She was / an American girl. So, fun and jangly, not so much critiquing the mores of modern American society. It's a pretty sweet opener.
Similarly, you might take a look at the second track and think, Refugee? Is this going to be vague early U2-like political rock? Nahhhh. It's really just appropriative lyrics in a love song. But generically appropriative. You cold modernize the word and imagery of like a refugee to in the closet, and it would make more sense. You don't have to live in the closet just doesn't have the easy rhyming of the word refugee.
We manage to get to the third song of the album without any drug references, and shockingly, he's not talking about weed but the cocaine of the impending '80s jerk who's trying to steal the object of his affection in Listen To Her Heart. But if she's done any of that cocaine, you're not going to have to listen very hard to hear her heart. I wonder if the drumline in this song is meant to be her frantic heartbeat.
I love the lone drumbeat that starts Breakdown, as well as the way the guitar creeps in, politely, to take over the lead.
Another drum intro, followed by some more jangly guitar riffs, and then, one of my favorite rock tropes, the lead singer speaks the beginning of each verse before falling into the melody. Here Comes My Girl. Growing up, I thought the chorus was Yea, she looks all right / she's all I need tonight. Turns out it's Yea she looks so right, which is a much more complimentary line but makes me enjoy the song just a little less.
Fooled Again (I Don't Like It) is the first song on this album that wasn't a hit. It's vocals are too weirdly straining, almost like Bob Dylan doing a David Byrne impression, or vice-versa. This song wasn't on my radar until I started doing a writing project where I wrote a poem for the title of every Tom Petty track. Something about the alternating dark, spacey verse backing (for Tom Petty, this ain't The Cure) against the usual happy fuzzy Petty guitars just stands out against his other early work. I also love the I don't like it mantra outro.
Unlike most of my discographies, I don't blend the songs into each other much on Petty albums. His songs don't really lend themselves to fading. But I do like the progression from "Fooled Again" to this other Not A Hit track, You're Gonna Get It. I love the multiple breakdown structure, how it both does and doesn't sound like the 70s album rock that dominated the rock and roll that was being overshadowed by disco. The background vocals are pure disco, but his vocals and the piano and guitar are pure album rock. There's also the open spaceiness, spilling over from the previous track.
You Got Lucky brings us back to the classic Petty hits. But it's incredibly synthy. This could almost be a track from The Cars. The twangy bassline is also a nice touch.
The cover for this "album" is from the video for Don't Come Around Here No More, a lovely weird track that Dave Stewart, from the Eurythmics, wrote about and for Stevie Nicks. The background vocals are completely unlike anything Fleetwood Mac and add a surreal touch to what would otherwise be a pretty basic Petty song.
The natural pairing for "Don't Come Around Here No More" is Stop Dragging My Heart Around, another song by Dave Stewart, this one on a Stevie Nicks album. But the track is just drenched in Heartbreaker. Even without Petty's vocals, it would be hard not to hear the guitar on this song and not imagine Petty playing it.
The Waiting is the only song I've taken from Petty's Hard Promises album. It's not lyrically amazing. It's a song that I heard so many times on classic rock radio in the 90s that I may only enjoy it through some sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Petty's sound especially goofy during the verses, which makes the trite lyrics more palatable.
The drumline intro and building bassline, followed by the It's just the normal noises in here always throw me. What Tom Petty song is th---ahhh, Even The Losers. This is another song that I have heard so many times that I know all the lyrics. Is it one of his best? I don't know anymore. But it does make me want to do the White Guy Shoulder Dance.
It's been awhile since we've had a Billy Joelesque piano lead in. Don't Do Me Like That falls into the triumvirate of the Generic That songs, along with Hall & Oates's "I Can't Go For That" and Meatloaf's "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)". Unlike those songs, I understand his Generic That.
I Need To Know feels a bit like Refugee but the vocals are buried a bit deeper between the jangle and the spare piano notes. Petty gives a great Waaaaaaaaaaah! before The Heartbreakers hit a guitar solo and keyboard sweep. Pure 70s rock and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.
The original Southern Accents was the first Petty album I bought after Full Moon Fever (again, I built my collection backwards). Spike struck me as such a weird, dark, echoey song for Tom Petty. I loved it instantly. I love the doot-dooo d'doo-doo doos and how they counterbalanced his less-nasally-than-usual vocals. Plus, who doesn't love a heavy panting dog outro?
The final track is the title track for this album. Southern Accentsis the first real ballad in this discography. The soft drums, the chord-focused piano. I think these final two songs are a great way to signal that there is an evolution taking place in Petty's music, and it's about to sound very different, while still sounding very ... ummm ... Petty?
Putting together this reimagined discography has been more difficult thatn I imagined, but more fulfilling to suss out. This is my third, and I think final, attempt at the second album in the discography. Unlike the first album, which sprawled over Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and Youg's solo work, this album is 100% Neil Young. It contains both his most successful period, and then his darkest period. I've shrunk four of his solo albums into an album that I love. I haven't changed the tracks much since my first draft, but the order has had to be rejumbled as the first draft didn't quite click for me, and the second draft seemed wonderful when I was mixing it but when I listened to it the next day it sounded awful.
This collection sounds, to me, like the prototype for Tom Petty's late 80s and 90s work, as well as the best Ani Difranco albums. They're not fully acoustic, but most of them sound like they were originally played on an acoustic guitar and then slowly expanded into fuller sounds. The songs are all pretty short, and they're catchy. When there are background harmonies, they sound sometimes fun, occasionally haunting, but always necessary, and not the result of overproduction.
The crux of this album is, of course, Harvest, which is the strongest popular Young album of the era. Personally, if I had to choose a full actual 1970s album by Young to listen to, it would be Tonight's The Night, but I understand why Harvest is more popular. What I don't understand are the people who told me I would enjoy After The Gold Rush. Even the "classic hits" on that album just sound off to me. Politically, I definitely fall on the Neil Young side of the Neil Young/Lynyrd Skynyrd divide (Which actually lasted only about a year before Young and Lynyrd reached an agreement that "Southern Man" is politically well-intentioned but kind of a garbage song. "Sweet Home Alabama" slaps) but musically I just don't enjoy the production or the lyrics from After The Gold Rush.
I don't know for sure, because, again, I'm learning what I like about Young as I make this discography, but I *think* this will probably be my favorite of the Neil Young albums, with the possible exception of his mid-90s output. It just Sounds like the mid-90s rock that I listened to in high school, even though it was made in the early and mid-70s.
The kick of the drum, the harmonica, the laid back vocals. Out On The Weekend could have been the first track of Tom Petty's Wildflowers, my favorite Petty album. It's got the country twang in moderation, over the soft acoustic rock. It's just a summer day drinking lemonade (or beer, should you choose) on a porch. Not your porch. The porch of someone you enjoy spending time with, but also enjoy time away from. This is a breezy conversation before you get up to shake hands, maybe hug, and then leave.
Old Man is one of Young's first super hits. Linda Rondstadt and James Taylor (who also plays bajo on the track) are his background vocalists for a catchy, navel-gazing song. This is one of those songs that I don't know if I like it because it's got a really catchy melody or because I've heard it in the background of movies, TV shows, and playing on the radio when I was younger, many times. I couldn't have told you that I even knew this song until I was putting the album together and thought "How do I know all the lyrics to this song?" I also enjoy how it
flows directly into Tonight's The Night, which embodies everything I love about Southern rock. As with Young's best work, the harmonies, provided in this track by The Santa Monica Flyers, are exquisite, the bassline is a touch too ferocious for the soft vocals, but somehow it works. The raggedy piano coming in is divine and makes me wish I was at a piano bar in Memphis. Young's lead vocals waiver back and forth toward the microphone and he plays around like he's at an open mic, not at a recording studio. I was completely unfamiliar with this song (or anything from the album it comes from) when I started this project, and it's now one of my absolute favorite Young tracks.
One of Young's absolute classic hits is Heart Of Gold. The soaring harmonica, the kick drum, the ... you know what ... everything I said about the first track, it's like that, only up another couple of notches. Its association with Zaphod Beeblebrox and infinite improbability also makes me love it even more than the harmonica riffs. And once again, we have Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor in the background.
Borrowed Tune is a sweet piano ballad that just sounds like every mid-90s ballad, but it arrived twenty years early. Hearing it now makes me want to listen to his contribution to the Philadelphia soundtrack. I think it's a thousand times better than "Lady Jane", the terribly clanky Rolling Stones song it borrows the melody from.
If you like a good, moody song played on a Wurlitzer, then hoo buddy, See The Sky About To Rain was written for you. I could see an instrumental version being in pretty much any 1990s Indie film. It could almost have come from REM's Automatic For The People.
Motion Pictures on the other hand, sounds like a slightly countrified version of pre-Kid A Radiohead. A B-side of OK Computer at least. If I'd encountered it, I definitely would have been listening to this song with the lights out in high school, being sad for the sake of being sad. I think much of this album appeals to me because it sounds like the type of music I might have put on when I was feeling down as a teenager/early twenty-something, but I would have felt better after the album is over. There's a real hope to these moody downers.
While I'm comparing Young's 70s output to the 90s work it inspired, Don't Let It Bring You Down is a Screaming Trees masterpiece released out of time. I bet this one more than one of Anthony Bourdain's mixtapes in the 80s and 90s.
Getting back to the piano rag with the scorching Southern guitar, Speakin' Out has The Most 70s lyrics I've heard in a long time. This is a stoned hippie jam with a 70s piano undertone that's polite enough to cut itself off after about five minutes.
Albuquerque gave me the most trouble with this album. I couldn't figure out where to put it. This is the dirty track on a quiet Tom Petty album. Or so I thought. It's really only the opening bass crunch that made it so hard to place. So I buried it in the mix as the outro of "Speakin' Out" fades into it. The song ascends into something between a Southern Rock jam and a Progressive Rock jam. The chorus is almost alien, as it just doesn't seem to fit over the melody, even though it's just echoing the guitar pattern.
I let New Mama cut through the ending for another straightforward acoustic song that could have been a Crosby Stills Nash And Young song. I let it fully play out to its gorgeous ending before
Lookout Joe lopes onto the album. This is definitely a late-album sing-along tune. It feels like a moment about to end. It's a fun Stray Gators song.
The penultimate song brings us back to harmonicaland, with Young lamenting about how he's not joining in his friends who are out having fun. Although, as we've heard throughout the album, his friends' fun is killing them while Oh Lonesome Me is sitting sadly, but alive, at home.
Closing out the album is another absolute classic, the song from which this reimagined album takes its name, The Needle And The Damage Done was a song I'd seen/heard referenced dozens of times before ever hearing the actual song. It was the name of a Nirvana bootleg I owned. It's a gorgeous song about loss, and it allows us to fade out with some audience applause, as it's from a live performance.